Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Hi Honey, I'm Home: Makeup and Cohabitation



I only needed one of these to move my makeup collection, mkay?


So, yes, I moved recently; only days ago. Specifically, I moved not just apartments but living situations—my gentleman friend and I decided to move into a new apartment together. I’ve lived alone for 12 years, so while this was a decidedly positive development, there’s also an element of adjustment going on. I’m not used to having someone else in the space I call my own, except for specific, defined periods of time—dinner, drinks. Even a lazy afternoon is just that, an afternoon, not an indefinite stretch in which ever-elastic time is shared with another. That’s exactly why most of us move in with someone, actually—you want to spend more time with them, or you want your downtime to include more of them, or something like that.

But when we talk about moving in with someone, the words we use imply not time but space. And—news flash, folks—sharing a space with someone means...you have to share. I don’t have a problem with this on a theoretical level, but on a practical level it means recognizing that you can’t just use your space however you see fit; if your intended use of space encroaches upon what a reasonable roommate might call “their” space, you’ve gotta make concessions. And here I am talking about the bathroom.

I recognized early on that I’d have to pare down my beauty products (this after I’d done what I believed to be a “thorough purge” a couple of years ago, ha!); our new bathroom has somewhat less storage space than my old (and crammed) one, and my beauty-product : non-beauty-product ratio is roughly 8:1. As I went through my bathroom, I started asking myself on products I was waffling on, “How would I justify this to my boyfriend?” Not that he’d ask me to justify any of my stuff—it was more of a weeding technique. If I can’t justify any particular beauty product to the person whose space I am about to share, I probably don’t need it at all, right? Despite my best efforts, though, I’m guessing that 90% of the bathroom is full of my crap. His grooming accessories: two bottles of cologne, an electric razor, and a stick of deodorant. (And a shampoo three times as expensive as mine, thankyouverymuch.) Mine? Well, are we counting only the daily-use stuff on the cabinet shelves, or are we counting the “extras” stored beneath the sink, or are we going whole hog and counting things like the velcro curlers and glitter eye pencil I can’t make myself get rid of? 

Still, that’s just the concern of space. Truly, the adjustment that living together takes is indeed about time, or perhaps division of time. I’m used to time being clearly delineated: Time in public means time out of my home, time in private means time in my home. Sure, there are plenty of spaces that straddle the two—going to friends’ homes, for example—but maybe that example just illuminates how skewed my idea of public vs. private has become. Private time for me in the past 12 years has meant not just time out of the public sphere but time away from anyone except myself. Living with someone means an adjustment to that line of thinking.

Enter makeup: For me, one of the primary functions of makeup has been to delineate the public from the private. Virtually every time I leave the house, I’m wearing makeup, and if I’m not, it’s because the space I’m entering is something I consider a mental extension of “home”: the grocery store, for example (it’s just around the corner!), or the gym. And for the most part, that means that I’d be putting on makeup before seeing my boyfriend. I mean, he’s seen me plenty of times without makeup, but the default is certainly mascaraed. Despite the fact that he’s enough of a “home” for me to want to create a literal home with him, being with him still gave me enough of a toehold in the public sphere that I’d want to put on makeup, even if I was just having him over for the evening.

So now that one particular form of public-private life—my intimate life, my partnered life—is more fully anchored in the private sphere, makeup could fall by the wayside, according to the personal logic I believed I’d been applying. And yet there I am, every day before he comes home from work, dabbing it on, prettifying, beautifying, cosmetizing. (It could be more extreme, I suppose: I’ve heard tell of the woman who wakes up before her partner so she can scurry to the bathroom to get made-up.) Me being me, I’m sure I’ve put far too much thought into this, but there it is: I’m not fully comfortable admitting that I make a point to put on makeup before he comes home for the day, and I can’t help but wonder what it means that I’m using makeup in this manner. Is it a form not of delineating public from private but of delineating me from us—a way of making sure I don’t lose myself in the glory of The Couple?

There’s actually some shreds of evidence for that line of thought: Unmarried, cohabitating couples are more likely than married couples to have spaces in the home that are designated “alone” spaces. (Well, they were in 1974, and while cohabitation has drastically changed in social meaning since then, I do hear this concern more from unmarried friends who live with partners as opposed to married couples.) But we live in New York, and while our apartment is comfortable, the idea of “alone spaces” is nearly laughable. We have a room whose main purpose is for me to work in—still, one can technically be out of sight in a New York dwelling, but one can never be out of earshot, even olfactoryshot at times. My makeup collection is a way of carving out a physical space of designated “alone” time, sure, but it may also be a way of drawing a boundary of sorts around a mental space that’s wholly mine. Not for his benefit, but for mine: For as I write this, my boyfriend is at work, and I am without a drop of makeup, without shoes, without contact lenses. No music is playing; no other creature is in this space. When he gets home this evening, I may still be working and writing, but things will look different. I’ll be made up, glasses off, hair brushed; the sounds of his existence will flow through this space. His sounds aren’t distracting per se, but they are not sounds of the solitude I’m used to when I work. I wonder if the makeup serves as an external notification to myself: You are no longer alone. It will take time to learn how to not be alone, after more than a decade of being able to be wholly alone at any moment I choose, simply by going home. And as it has done for me before, makeup may help me through a personal transition.

I wonder how this will change as time goes by and living with someone else becomes my mental default, not a new playdate. And yes, I’m aware that for all my talk of boundaries and solitude, makeup also helps us look better, and I’m talking about my boyfriend, not a roommate—I want to look my best around him. Especially now, I admit—now, before the natural rough edges of cohabitation begin to reveal themselves. I’m not yet annoyed by any of the things that may annoy me a year from now: shoes laying about wherever he feels like taking them off, that sort of thing. And in turn, to my knowledge none of my little things have crept into his brain: inability to get anything totally clean, 12 different kinds of flours in the cupboard (down from 15, so it’s an improvement). He’s under no illusions that I’m perfect in any way, including looks-wise; it’s not like he believes my eyelashes blacken themselves. Maybe that’s exactly why I’m drawn to wearing makeup at home now, in his presence anyway: It’s not an illusion at all, but an expression, an articulation of my desire to start off this whole living-together thing at my personal best. Sometimes my personal best will mean a laser-like attention to other things (most notably work), and in those times makeup may well fall by the wayside. Right now, though, my personal best isn’t so lopsided. She writes, she edits, she exercises, she researches, she reads, she cleans. And right now, she does it looking the way she wants.

15 comments:

  1. First of all, congrats on the move! Second: Whether you're delineating yourself from the "us" you're a part of is certainly interesting to consider, but ultimately, I think it breaks down to the fact that for makeup-wearing folks like ourselves, knowing that we have the stuff on our face makes us sit up a little straighter, feel better, possibly increase our productivity, but overall, it makes us happier. And when dude comes home, that helps. It's the foundation (pun intended?) that makes us even happier to see him. Whether you'll get "too" comfortable and let yourself "go" in a year or ten, that's a personal choice, and you'll see how it goes (and then blog about it, I hope).

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    1. Why, thank you! And you're absolutely right: Makeup does make me happier. I feel more "on," and not in a put-on way but more in a way like having coffee means my day is beginning, even before the caffeine hits me. In any case, you know I'll be here a-bloggin' away if I "let myself go"...

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  2. Fascinating. I love how personal lives mirror larger culture. You aren't unusual in your thoughts and hearing them is valuable to me.

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    1. Thank you! Re: personal lives and larger culture, I can't decide if it's a good thing or a bad thing that I didn't really know what sociology was when I was in college, because I'd probably have switched my major. I'm an amateur sociologist at best, but love learning about it.

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  3. I've lived with my husband for 10 years, and I almost always put on a little mascara before he comes home. But of course, I often put it on even when it's just me in the house too, even when I'm working from home. Something about a little makeup or hair fussing just makes me feel more put together, and I like to appear "together" even in my private space, and I've often thought of my most basic makeup and hair styling as grooming, not getting made up. Maybe that's part of the weirdness--grooming in front of another person, like getting rid of unwanted body hair.

    But I also think wearing a little makeup is also kind of like not wearing a shirt that you spilled a ton of food on, even if the stain is dry. The shirt is perfectly wearable, but why wouldn't I just go put on a clean shirt? I might not need the makeup, but why not slap it on if I want to look and feel my best? And I feel like looking and feeling good about yourself in private is important to maintaining some personal peace and happiness.

    (I feel like I should add that my husband has never actually noticed if I am wearing mascara or not. A few times I've only put it on one eye and he still doesn't notice, so I know I'm doing it for me, not him. And I'm OK with that.)

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    1. Ha! (Re: mascara on one eye and him not noticing.) The other day I did a faux bob and my boyfriend didn't notice—meanwhile, my hair is nearly waist-length. At first I was all harrumph, but then realized that also means he genuinely doesn't notice when I'm not made up, so...!

      Great analogy about the shirt and spilled food—I mean, I don't think either of us think of our bare faces as spilled food, but if it helps put us in the mind-set of...well, of whatever that might mean, whether it's being couple-social or "together" yet private, then why not?

      Those are some great ideas you shared in your follow-up comment, btw! I particularly like the idea of having beautiful, functional bottles that hold a smaller supply of daily-use products. I always find display bottles so luxurious-looking (my gym does that with body lotion, etc., and even though I can tell the lotion isn't exactly quality stuff I love slathering it on just because it's from a dispenser...) so why not do it in my own home? Love.

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  4. Oh, one more comment--I also had to whittle my personal grooming affects down significantly when I moved in with my husband...and for some reason our bathrooms just keep getting smaller and losing cabinet/counter space, even if our lodgings get larger otherwise.

    I have a box of makeup I now keep in the closet called "Costume Makeup" that I break out every now and then, and that's where I store all my stuff that I don't really use on a regular enough basis to keep out, but I don't want to throw it away (eye liner, lipsticks, etc.)

    I only keep my real grooming stuff in the bathroom ie soap, shampoo, body oil, and I bought beautiful functional bottles that are small enough to fit on the limited counter space and cabinet but hold a month or so worth of product, and I refill the bottles from my regular sizes, which I store away.

    Lastly, I set up a small shelf next to my dresser where I stash everything else, including my hair dryer/straightener, face masks, extra soaps, extra body oils, makeup brushes, etc. It's organized but out of the "shared space." I store my jewelry in/on wall mounted hooks/holders above it. You just have to get creative with your space! It's worked for us, but you'll find a system that works for you too!

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  5. Hey, lady! Yay for living together!
    I wouldn't overthink the whole thing. It seems like it's just part of your "get ready for real life" routine. For me, the day divides between jammies and bra/real shirt/jeans or other daytime clothing. I don't exactly dress up to take out the trash, but I also won't do it without a bra and real pants. Of course the time I spend in jammies is also real life - taking care of business at home, cooking, playing with kids, having important conversations, but it's just a different kind of real life, and I can't start working on fixing the bathroom outlet on a Saturday morning until I've put on a bra and real clothes - no reason to worry about putting your "daytime" self together when you'll be in a different "zone."

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    1. The bra! Yes, the bra absolutely signals "real life," and in fact that has somehow become the very first thing I do in the morning: Put on my bra. I guess now that I'm working from home it's the equivalent of my commute? Anyway, I like the distinction of "zones," for as you note, pajama/lounge time is also "real life," but it has a different function. I wear my lounging clothes for a while on weekends, because I give myself an actual weekend now. And yep, makeup forms the boundaries of one of those zones for me.

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  6. Reading this was very interesting. Because I've never been alone in a whole aparment or house. Never ever in my life so far. I only had my own room at most. First, I lived with parents and shared a room with my brother. Then after switching scools at 13 I rented rooms in other people apartments until I was allowed to live with some of my higschool girlfriends in a shared apartment (only 1 bathroom and 2 mirrors per 4 girls, it taught me to get ready in a whim). Then there were dorms at University (3-4 persons per room - so was it at my dorms; also a worthy space sharing experience). And right after that I moved in with my boyfriend. So, I'm very well trained to always consider other people needs and to keep the amount of and space for my stuff relatively small. But, as you indicated in your post, I simply NEED a time or a spece just for me.

    I like going to movies alone. I cherish moments of sitting in an indie cafe bar and reading or going shopping alone. I like using public transportation from time to time because I'm anonymous and sort of alone in the crowd. I really, really crave those little moments of aloneness, of feeling just plain me. Of not thinking about how my actions and decisions influences life of the person I live with, e.g. when deciding to listen to some music while he watches a program. Without them life would be harder. I think being alone is essential for every human being, only the craved amount varies due to our different experiences.

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    1. Signe, that's interesting how you've intuitively found a way for that alone time/space, even though you've never had it in your habitat. I suppose I did the same thing when I had roommates—actually, now that I think of it, it's actually been the opposite for me. It only rarely occurs to me to ask anyone to do anything social with me besides get a drink or dinner—when I had less alone space I also went to movies by myself, traveled by myself, went to dinner by myself, shopping alone, etc. It was only after more than 10 years of living alone that I realized I was actually lonely during some of those "alone time" times—a realization I'm glad I had, because otherwise I wouldn't have felt ready to shack up with my boyfriend!

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  10. You do need your friends to help out on a moving day, bribing with food definitely a way of getting everyone involved! Overall, it looks like you guys had a really good day and did everything you needed too. I wish I was still moving just me and my hubby, we now has three kids and all their stuff to move but I will probably put some in storage with till things are settled and I have found a great removal company to help. I don't think my siblings and family friend could get it all done this time!

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